Srila Prabhupada’s First Talks in America (New York, March 1966)
by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
tad viddhi pranipatena
upadeksyanti te jnanam
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you, because he has seen the truth.” [Bhagavad-gita 4.34]
Knowledge is the solution. And for knowledge we have to go to the right person, the tattva-darsi. Tattva-darsi means “one who has actually seen or experienced the Absolute Truth.” Unless we find such a person—one who has actually seen the Absolute Truth or who has experienced what the Absolute Truth is—there is very little chance for our making spiritual advancement.
So we have to find a person who is experienced in the Absolute Truth and then follow the principles stated here: pranipatena pariprasnena sevaya. Pranipatena means to surrender, pariprasnena means to inquire, and sevaya means to render service—three things. You should find a person who is self-realized, who has experience in the Absolute Truth, and then, on your part, you have to surrender to him, you have to inquire, and you have to render service. When these things are completed, there is no doubt about your spiritual salvation. If you have actually found a person who is self-realized, and if you have surrendered to him honestly, with inquiry and service, then you must know that your spiritual salvation is guaranteed. Guaranteed. There is no doubt about it.
Next Lord Krsna says,
yaj jnatva na punar moham
evam yasyasi pandava
yena bhutany asesani
draksyasy atmany atho mayi
“And when you have thus learned the truth, you will never again come under delusion, for you will know that all living beings are but part of Me, and that they are in Me, and are Mine.” [Bg. 4.35] Here Lord Krsna says that as soon as one gets knowledge from the right person, then he never again comes into the field of delusion. The whole thing is that in the present stage of our life, we are conditioned and deluded—we do not know things as they are, and that is the cause of all our miseries.
Otherwise, constitutionally we are anandamayo ‘bhyasat—by nature we are jolly. In the Vedanta-sutra you’ll find that the nature of Brahman, or spirit, is anandamaya, full of bliss. And in Brahma-samhita [5.1] it is said, isvarah paramah krsnah sac-cid-ananda-vigrahah: “Krsna is the supreme controller, and His form is composed of eternity, knowledge, and bliss.” Sat, cit, ananda. Sat means “eternity,” cit means “full knowledge,” and ananda means “pleasure.” This is our constitution. We are all fragmental portions of Krsna, the Supreme Lord. Therefore, because He is eternal and full of knowledge and pleasure, we are also eternal and full of knowledge and pleasure.
Unfortunately, we have been put into contact with the material energy. Therefore, we are experiencing just the opposite. What is the opposite of sac-cid-ananda? Sat means “eternity.” So we are now just the opposite: asat. Asat means “non-eternal.” This body will cease to exist. We are put into such a condition that however hard we may try to keep our youthfulness—by so many medicines, injections, and so many other things which we have invented by our advancement of material science—death is sure. Antavanta ime dehah: the body must one day be finished. Therefore, there is no question of sat, eternity. And cit… cit means “knowledge.” We have no knowledge. We have senses, but these are all imperfect senses. When somebody speaks about the Lord, we challenge, “Can you show me the Lord?” But we do not know that our senses are so imperfect that we can barely see even what we are daily seeing. If the light is turned off, then we cannot see each other, even in this room. So our seeing power is conditional. It is not perfect. Similarly, all our senses are imperfect. So by imperfect senses and by speculation with our imperfect mind, we cannot reach the Absolute Truth. It is not possible—not possible.
Therefore the Bhagavad-gita says, tad viddhi pranipatena: “If you are at all serious about understanding transcendental knowledge, then you must approach a person who has experience of the Absolute Truth.” Otherwise, it is not possible for you to understand. If you think, “I shall realize the Absolute Truth by mental speculation,” it is not possible, because you are fortified with only imperfections. Your senses cannot approach the Absolute Truth, or Brahman. Therefore it is said, avan-manasa-gocarah: “Brahman is beyond mental speculation.” In fact, one name of the Supreme Lord is Adhoksaja. Adhoksaja means “the one by whom our material senses are defeated.” Our material senses are defeated in every respect. So it is not possible to realize the Absolute Truth if we do not find a person who is a realized soul, who is absolute, who has understood.
In India, generally the brahmanas [saintly intellectuals) are expected to be the spiritual masters, because brahmana means “he who has sufficient knowledge in the transcendental science” (brahma janatiti brahmanah). That is a brahmana. Now, due to this modern age, Kali-yuga [the age of quarrel and hypocrisy], it is very difficult to find a qualified brahmana. Therefore, it is also very difficult to find a qualified spiritual master. So Caitanya Mahaprabhu [the incarnation of God for this age] has recommended,
kibra vipra, kiba nyasi, sudra kene naya
yei krsna-tattva-vetta sei ‘guru’ haya
“Never mind whether one is a brahmana or a sudra [a workingman] or a sannyasi [a renounced monk] or a householder. Never mind what he is, that doesn’t matter. If he knows the science of Krsna, then he is a bona fide spiritual master.” [Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila 8.128]
So here in the Bhagavad-gita is the science of Krsna. Every one of you should study Bhagavad-gita very scrutinizingly, with all your arguments, with all your sense, with all your philosophical knowledge. As it is said here, tad viddhi pranipatena pariprasnena: it is not that you have to submit yourself blindly. Although your spiritual master may be self-realized and experienced in the Absolute Truth, still you have to question him. You have to understand from him all critical points by your intelligent questions. That is allowed.
So it doesn’t matter where he’s born or what he is—whether he’s a brahmana or a sudra or an American or an Indian or whatever. Never mind. When you go to a doctor, a medical practitioner, you do not ask, “Well, Doctor, are you American or Indian? Are you a brahmana? Are you a Jew? Are you a Christian?” No. If he has the qualifications of a medical man, you surrender: “Doctor, treat me. I am suffering.” There is no question. Similarly, if you find someone who has the qualifications of-a spiritual master, you can accept him as a spiritual master and surrender to him.
You’ll be surprised that Lord Caitanya’s principal disciples were all so-called fallen men in society. He appointed one Haridasa Thakura as namacarya. (Namacarya means “the prime minister, or the authority, in chanting the Hare Krsna mantra.”) This Haridasa Thakura was a Muhammadan. He happened to take his birth in a Muhammadan family, but he became a follower of Lord Caitanya. And after training him, Caitanya Mahaprabhu gave him the highest post in His spiritual mission.
Caitanya Mahaprabhu appeared in this world to introduce the system of chanting the holy names of God: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. And Haridasa Thakura, who happened to be a Muhammadan, became so enlightened that Caitanya Mahaprabhu appointed him the supreme minister for administering this Hare Krsna mantra. Haridasa was made the authority, the namacarya. So there is nothing barring anyone from becoming a spiritual master. Everyone can become a spiritual master, provided he knows the science of Krsna. And that is very reasonable. If you do not know the subject matter, how can you be a teacher? A teacher is he who knows the science.
So Krsna says to Arjuna and to all the human race, yaj jnatva na punar moham: “By understanding this science, you will not be illusioned.” Because Arjuna was illusioned, he was not prepared to fight. So this Bhagavad-gita instruction was given to Arjuna. Here Krsna says, “If you actually undergo the training under an experienced, bona tide spiritual master, then you will not succumb to the illusory energy.”
Then Krsna says,
api ced asi papebhyah
“Even if you are considered to be the most sinful of all sinners, when you are situated in the boat of transcendental knowledge, you will be able to cross over the ocean of miseries.” [Bg. 4.36] Now, Lord Sri Krsna says we are in the midst of the ocean of ignorance. This life, this conditioned life in the material world, is just like an ocean of ignorance. Lord Caitanya therefore prays to Sri Krsna like this: ayi nanda-tanuja kinkaram patitam mam visame bhavambudhau—“My dear Lord Krsna, I have fallen in the ocean of ignorance.” So, we are in the ocean of ignorance. Now, if you have a very good ship, you can very easily cross the Atlantic Ocean without any difficulty. Similarly, if we have the ship or the boat of perfect knowledge, then there is no fear. We can cross the ocean of ignorance very easily.
Now, here Krsna says, api ced asi papebhyah sarvebhyah papa-krttamah: a person may be the most sinful man, the supermost sinful man, but if he gets this knowledge of the Krsna science, then he can cross over the ocean of ignorance very easily. This means that it does not matter what our past life was. Any Vedic literature, especially Bhagavad-gita, does not take into account what you were in the past—that doesn’t matter. Because we are in ignorance, we might have done so many things which are not approved, which are not virtuous. That is quite possible. Every one of us is subjected to suffering, because due to ignorance we do so many sinful things. Nobody can say, “I am free from any sinful activities.” Nobody can say that. But that doesn’t matter, because Lord Sri Krsna says, api ced asi papebhyah sarvebhyah papa-krttamah: “Even if one is the most sinful man, when he understands the Krsna science, he’s free.” He’s free, and he can cross over the material ocean of ignorance very easily.
How is it possible? In the next verse [Bg. 4.37], Krsna gives a very nice example:
yathaidhamsi samiddho ‘gnir
bhasma-sat kurute ‘rjuna
bhasma-sat kurute tatha
“As the blazing fire turns firewood to ashes, O Arjuna, so does the fire of knowledge burn to ashes all reactions to material activities.” Whatever you put in a fire, the fire will go on burning. It will burn everything to ashes. Never mind whether it is wood or some dirty thing, the fire will turn it into ashes. Similarly, if you get this Krsna science, if you understand this Krsna science, then all your reactions to your sinful activities-whatever you might have done in the past—will all be burned to ashes. Burned to ashes.
In the next verse [Bg. 4.38], Krsna says,
na hi jnanena sadrsam
pavitram iha vidyate
tat svayam yoga-samsiddhah
“In this world there is nothing so sublime and pure as transcendental knowledge. Such knowledge is the mature fruit of all mysticism. And one who has achieved this enjoys the self within himself in due course of time.”
Therefore, we must seek knowledge. And the perfection of knowledge, as we have several times explained in these meetings, is to understand Krsna. That’s all. In the Seventh Chapter of Bhagavad-gita, you’ll find, bahunam janmanam ante jnanavan mam prapadyate: “After culturing knowledge for many, many births, one comes to Krsna, and he understands that Vasudeva [Krsna] is everything.” Vasudevah sarvam iti sa mahatma sudurlabhah: “Vasudeva, Krsna, is everything, the cause of all causes.” He’s the cause of all causes. Always remember that when I speak of Krsna, I am speaking of God—God is the cause of all causes.
Now, these days the idea of communism is becoming very prominent. So, in the Krsna science there is a very nice conception of spiritual communism. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam you’ll find that there was once a discussion between Narada [a great devotee-sage] and Yudhisthira [a great devotee-king]. Narada was explaining that in this inuinlyyteil material world—whether on the higher planets or on this planet or in outer space—whatever wonderful things and material resources there are, they are all manufactured by the Supreme Lord. Just try to understand. Nothing in this world is done by any human being. Everything is done by God. Nobody can deny it. Atmavasyam idam sarvam: “Everything in existence is owned and controlled by the Supreme Lord.” Therefore, all living entities—from the ant on up to Brahma, the highest human being, or the highest demigod—all of them have the right to use the material resources.
Now, Narada says that you can use all these material resources, as much as you require, but if you want more- if you take more, men you’ll become a thief, and you are punishable. Just see the idea of spiritual communism! Everything in the universe (on this planet or on other planets), belongs to God. Now people are trying to go to the moon. The Russians are trying to put their flag first on the moon, so that they’ll conquer. It is just like when you Americans first came from Europe. You conquered this tract of land, America, and you put up your flag. So now people are trying to go to the moon. But this putting up a flag is ignorance. Why are you putting up your flag? It is not your property; it is God’s property. This is knowledge. But if I think, “It is my property, so I must put my flag here,” that is ignorance.
In this morning’s lecture I gave another example. If you throw some bags of grain in the street, many pigeons will come, but each pigeon will pick up only four, five, six, eight, ten grains—and then go away. He will not take even one grain more than he needs. As soon as he’s satisfied to his heart’s content—”Oh, I am full”—he’ll go away. He’ll not stock any grain. And this is natural. But if we put a hundred bags of flour on the street, and if we ask people to come and take, then somebody will take ten bags, somebody will take fifteen bags, somebody will take thirty bags, and somebody will not take any bags, because he’s weak and cannot. So the distribution will not be equal. That is our advancement of civilization. The knowledge which the pigeons, the cats, and the dogs have, we are lacking. What is that knowledge? That the whole thing belongs to the Supreme Lord and that we can accept whatever we need—but not more than that. This is knowledge.
When everyone understands this knowledge, there will be no difficulty. The whole world is made by the Lord’s arrangement, so that you will have no scarcity. Everything is sufficient. There will be no scarcity, provided you know the distribution process. Now there is a fallacy in the distribution process. One is taking more, and another is starving. Therefore, the starving people are making a protest: “Why shall we starve?” But their knowledge is also defective. Here is the perfect knowledge; atmavasyam idam sarvam—we have to understand that everything is God’s property, not our property. Then we can use things which are available as nature’s products. Suppose there is an iron ore mine. So, whatever iron ore one requires, he can take. But if somebody makes the iron ore mine his own property, then according to Srimad-Bhagavatam he becomes a thief. Then he’s punishable, because the mine is God’s property. Nobody can create the iron ore mine. We cannot create anything—we can simply transform things.
Suppose you are a worker or a laborer. You may manufacture a very nice table, but the ingredients—the wood, the iron, the instruments—they are supplied by God. You cannot manufacture iron. You cannot manufacture wood. So why do you claim that the table is yours” This is ignorance. So by the culture of the Krsna science, when you understand the Krsna science, then you become free from this ignorance.
We are suffering due to ignorance. It is just as if we were in a law court. Ignorance is no excuse in the law court. Suppose you have done something wrong. If you say to the judge, “I did not know, sir, that this is the law,” that is no excuse. You’ll be punished, Now, in the sastra, in the Vedic literature, it is said that everything belongs to God, everything is manufactured by God. So everyone has a right—not only human beings, even the animals—everyone has a right to live and use things, as much as he requires. But if he stocks more, if he acquires more, he becomes a thief. And he’s punishable. Now, suppose I say, “Oh, I do not know this law, therefore, I have accumulated so many things.” That ignorance does not mean that you’ll not be punished. You will be punished,
Therefore, we have to know the Krsna science. Now, people of the modern age are lacking this knowledge. That is why we have formed this international society, and we invite all sincere souls to take part in the society and teach this science all over the world.